What to do when your child is the bully

ByThe Understood Team

At a glance

  • Kids who bully often have difficulty managing their own emotions and getting along with others.

  • Developing clear guidelines around bullying behavior can help stop it.

  • You play the biggest role in helping your child change any aggressive tendencies.

Does your child tease or put down other kids? Does your child spend time in the principal’s office for threatening classmates? Kids with learning and thinking differences are often bullied, but they can do the bullying as well.

Like other kids who bully, your child may feel the need to gain control. Your child may get picked on themself. Your child may have trouble managing their emotions and making friends. They may also feel frustrated and powerless over their learning and thinking differences.

Even if the behavior can be explained, it’s important for your child to know that when they pick on other kids, they’re being a bully. Teaching kids to manage their emotions and actions is a step toward stopping bullying in its tracks. Here’s how.

Make it clear that you’re not OK with bullying.

Tell your child that you don’t think it’s funny, cool, or acceptable to hurt others or make them feel bad. That goes for siblings as well as peers. If your child’s school has anti-bullying policies, review them with your child. This can help your child understand that there are rules in place everywhere to keep kids like them safe and comfortable.

Calmly talk through bullying incidents.

  • What did you do?
  • Why was that a bad choice?
  • Who did your actions hurt?
  • What were you trying to achieve?
  • Next time, how can you achieve that goal without hurting other people?

Develop consistent consequences for bullying.

This shows how seriously you take it. For example: First, your child has to apologize to the victim and help fix anything they can. Then, there’s a negative consequence to the behavior. Perhaps your child loses Internet, TV, or cell phone privileges, or isn’t allowed to attend activities they had planned to for an amount of time.

You can change consequences over time. Just make sure your child knows that you’re changing them.

“It’s important for your child to know that when they pick on other kids, they’re being a bully.”

Stay on top of your child’s behavior.

Who does your child hang out with? How does your child spend their time? What does your child do online? Try to monitor how your child acts in different areas of their life. Call out bullying behaviors as soon as you notice them. This helps kids begin to understand more fully what is and isn’t acceptable.

Get others on board.

Talk with your child’s school and the adults in charge of outside activities. See if you can get everyone on the same page when it comes to expectations and consequences, and see if they can help your child work on developing better social and problem-solving skills. If they’ve had success in stopping bullying with other kids, they may also have other good advice.

Make kindness feel like the norm.

Give your child chances to see people being kind toward one another. Model kindness to others. When you spend time together, point out when others act in a caring way. You might want to volunteer together so your child understands how it feels to help others.

It’s important to call out your child when they’re being a bully. But it’s equally important to “catch” kids when they aren’t. Praise their behavior when they’re being kind or controlling their emotions. And feel good knowing you’re a key part of your child’s positive change.

Key takeaways

  • Children often bully to regain a sense of control.

  • When you make it clear that you’re not OK with bullying, kids gain a consistent expectation for their behavior.

  • Developing consequences, asking for support, and encouraging compassion can help stop bullying over time.

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About the author

About the author

The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Molly Algermissen, PhD is an associate professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center and clinical director of PROMISE.